The Christmas nativity story is a mix of images that are both cultural and sacred. We’ve woven together biblical narratives and characters into one story that is more true to the Kingdom of God than the actual chronological events.
If you are poor, or live in relationship with the people struggling with poverty, you know what it is to hear angels and animals together. You easily identify with the images of kings and shepherds worshipping and giving gifts to God in a humble place that smells of beast and burden.
The Christmas story gathers up the trials and tribulations of those on the margins and sets a table of wonder, mystery and glory like a feast in the presence of all that assails them. We often sanitize or redefine the raw biblical nativity story, editing out the mass infanticide, astrologers, oppressive imperialism and the biblical affinity with the wanderer, homeless and refugee. But those who live in these hardships see those story lines underneath the paper smudges of pastoral sermon edits.
We must remember that Jesus came into Earth as a gossip story.
He was born miraculously to a young virgin, a devote but perplexed Jewish girl. She said “yes” to a plan that instantly pushed her farther to the margins of her society than she already had been.
Jesus was to be born and raised as a rejected, shamed, suffering, bullied and ignored one:
“Men made sport of him, turning away from him; he was a man of sorrows, marked by disease; and like one from whom men’s faces are turned away, he was looked down on, and we put no value on him.” -Isaiah 53:3
When John the baptist was preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, he echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice is wailing, “In the wilderness, get it ready!
Prepare the way; make it a straight shot.
The Eternal would have it so. Straighten the way in the wandering desert to make the crooked road wide and straight for our God.
Where there are steep valleys, treacherous descents,
raise the highway; lift it up; bring down the dizzying heights.
Fill in the potholes and gullies, the rough places.
Iron out the shoulders flat and wide.
The Lord will be, really be, among us.
The radiant glory of the Lord will be revealed.
All flesh together will take it in. Believe it.
None other than God, the Eternal, has spoken.”
These words are the familiar images of those who are struggling to make it in a world that is stacked against them by race, birth, sex, economics, intelligence, health and education.
Places where resources are scarce and you never have enough.
Those dried up places where there’s no water, refreshment or shade and danger lurks.
A life path that never allows any substantive momentum, everything is always slowing you down and you just can’t get ahead.
Steep, treacherous, dizzying heights:
Those insurmountable obstacles that are too much for our abilities, talents, resources or situation in life.
Those unforeseen pits in life that come out of nowhere when you are trying to get through your days and they end up damaging you, throwing you into a ditch or sidelining plans.
Gullies and rough places:
Those deep dark valleys of addictions, depressions, sorrows and sufferings that seem to swallow up all the light of the day.
This is the poetic language of a Christ of the concrete, not the cathedral or classroom. His story touches our story, He really was “among us” and promised to be with us in life giving light and resurrecting hope. By his spirit and word he is with us in “counsel and comfort”, which speaks of Him offering Himself as a presence in and through the trails and tribulations of life.
But this is also the prophet’s painting of another world that is possible by faith, hope and love. It’s a remembering of Eden’s dream and God’s invitation to work with humanity to bring about a kingdom garden city on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Christmas carols are brightest when sung out by nighttime heralds who stroll through abandoned, broken and struggling places, bringing a song where singing had long since ceased.
I believe Christ is still found in the stables of our communities but we must leave the familiar and follow the starlight of God’s heart and join in worship with those at the margins to truly experience the full joy of Christmas.
I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.